Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Historic treehouses

Sometimes, the zoning and planning issues involved in a particular controversy are buried by the personality conflicts in a neighborhood setting. Recently, construction was begun on a treehouse in the Richland West End Historic District here in Nashville. The owner of the property evidently discussed the necessity of a building permit with Metro Codes and was informed that no building permit was in fact unnecessary. He also checked with the staff at the Metro Historic Zoning Commission, and after review, the staff issued a permit for the treehouse as an accessory building.

Once construction on the project had begun, the neighbors were not pleased. Complaints were lodged with the MHZC staff, and ultimately an appeal was filed from the staff decision to the commission itself. The matter was taken up and considered by the commission on November 14, and while it was not clear that the commission in fact had jurisdiction, it supported the decision of the staff.

Part of the difficulty in this situation is that the lot sizes are fairly small and the homes are very nice, and of significant size. As a result, any additional construction, even in one’s own backyard, is not very far away from the backyard of your neighbors. This can frequently lead to conflicts, and it seems likely that that is what happened here.

The Commission’s response, having a hearing, allowing everyone to have their say, certainly seems a reasonable response. Unless these kinds of children’s playhouses are of gargantuan proportions, their temporary nature would seem to belie any need for them to comply with historic, or for that matter, even regular zoning requirements. At the same time, if I was constructing one, I would make sure to keep the playhouse out of the rear and side yards just so I didn’t run into any problem from a zoning standpoint.

Perhaps the historic zoning commission would be best off simply saying they have no jurisdiction or creating a policy that precludes review of this type of construction.

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